Our Communications Manager Jane Edmonds shares her thoughts about a friend in need at the start of Movember (which raises awareness about men’s mental health) and as Second Step’s male suicide prevention project, Hope, begins work.
How many times over the last 20 years have I reached for the phone to ask Harry to come over? The answer is countless times. Sure he’s the father of my two beautiful, talented, super interesting daughters, but that’s not why I call.
It’s because I can rely on his empathetic good humour, his ability to slot in to whatever is going on and his guaranteed propensity to compliment the mood with a tune.
In the past the tunes were contained in a leather bound CD case, some 500 plus of them. Today he turns to YouTube and Spotify.
Harry loves happy songs with a beat that get you smiling. Who wouldn’t want that at the touch of a button?
When we split up 21 years ago I remember thinking God, I’ll miss his music. And I have. Though his generosity means he shares it always with everyone, and still does with me from time to time. Harry remains so much part of me and my family.
Fast forward to a hot July morning…blue skies, beating sun by nine…a settled and confident stillness about the day. Everyone safe in the collective knowledge that we’re in the warm grip of a heatwave.
Harry and I are sitting outside with coffee and water at a metal table in the full-on sunshine. It’s far too hot out here, but inside doesn’t work for smokers, especially smokers who have the shakes.
The beads of sweat are growing in number on his familiar face. I look at him…and see cold, grey fear. He’s shaking…because his body is craving alcohol. His fear is for the pending sentencing case in court where he knows they’ll throw the book at him. I know it too.
He’s smoking a lot. One after the other, after the other. His hands are trembling as he takes another cigarette from the pocket in his checked shirt. It’s hopeless and we both know it.
“What do you think they’ll see when you stand before them in the dock,” I ask.
“Someone who’s destroyed,” he answers.
And he’s right. But how? Why? What has he been doing??
“The problem is I’m not real, he explains. Everything is extremely hard for me. I don’t know how I get through each day.
“Every morning I have to work out what to do. My mind is racing, it’s always racing. And I don’t know what to do.”
He continues. “And I always make mistakes. My life has never been so hard. I’ve never felt so trapped. But I will try. I will try my best to get through it.”
Often I say nothing. Having nothing to say.
Sometimes I say: “You’re doing your time, Harry. You have to do your time. You’re paying for the mistakes you’ve made. It will be all right. I’m sure.”
He’s done three months of a two-year suspended sentence, and there is danger all around. The likelihood of him breaching his sentence is huge.
If he doesn’t turn up to his alcohol rehab days, if he fails a breath test which he has to take twice a week, if he fails to do to his community service (there’s some 150 hours of that), if he doesn’t see his probation officer as agreed, if he doesn’t pay his fine back at £100 a week.
If he doesn’t do any one of these many things, he’s likely to go to prison. And yet the maths is against him. He isn’t working and his benefits don’t cover his rent, bills, council tax and food let alone be enough to pay back the £5,500 he owes. It’s hopeless.
No wonder he feels hopeless too.
And tonight he cries. Real tears. The first time I’ve seen his tears. I don’t think he’s cried before…not with me. And as they fall I realise how incredible it was that he hadn’t cried before. So many reasons to break down. But he has always been so stable. So reliably him.
I realise now he is in crisis. This is what crisis looks like.
My checking in with him every day is what I can do. What I must do. He needs something. Not me, I realise that…just something. And I happen to be it.
I know my place. This is about him. It’s his time. It’s no longer about me.
I wrote this in September and I’d like to update you. Harry has now got a job, a driving job and he seems to be keeping on the straight and narrow.
In a way the driving means he has structure around which he can try and keep sober. God knows how he still has a driving licence, but there you go. As he said to me: “I used to spend seven days a week in Wetherspoons, now it’s only one.” That’s some change.
When he rang his probation officer to tell her about his job, she said: “How the hell did you do that?” Suffice to say, I’m proud of him, and I am still checking in. Daily. I know that without me there is nowhere and no-one for him to turn to.